Bihar: At least 20 die from lightning strikes in 48 hours in Indian state

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At least 20 people have died from lightning strikes in the past 48 hours in eight districts of India’s poorest state of Bihar.

Nitish Kumar, the state’s chief minister, expressed his grief over the deaths as he directed residents to follow the advisories issued by the state’s disaster management authority and remain indoors during bad weather.

Mr Kumar also announced a compensation of Rs 400,000 (£4,154) for the next of kin of the deceased.

The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) predicted moderate to heavy rain across the state till the end of the month with weather department official Kamini Kumari warning about “lightning and thunderstorm”.

With this, the state has recorded at least 181 deaths from lightning strikes this year alone, reported TheTimes of India.

Alarmed by the high incidents of lightning deaths, the chief minister held a high-level meeting on 24 July. He directed officials to install lightning arresters in all government buildings, including schools, hospitals and block and sub-division headquarters.

While lightninging is a global phenomenon, India and other developing economies are likely to disproportionally suffer from lightning fatalities.

That is in part because a lot of people are out in open fields, tending to crops and livestock, but also due to poor awareness of the steps needed to survive the strikes.

“The best way to survive a lightning strike is to avoid being outdoors in the first place,” Colonel Sanjay Srivastava, an army veteran and the convener of the Lightning Resilient India Campaign, had told The Independent last year.

“But if you are caught outdoors and can’t take cover during a lightning storm, seek shelter in a low area under a dense growth of small trees. Don’t stand too close to them, though. Avoid tall, isolated objects like tall trees and flagpoles, since lightning often, but not always, tends to strike the tallest object in an area,” he added.

According to an annual report by the campaign, 1,697 people died from lightning strikes in 2020-21. While the figure has come down from 1,771 deaths recorded in the previous financial year, lightning remained the biggest contributor to the rate of accidental deaths caused by natural phenomena in India.

And there is growing evidence that the incidence of lightning strikes is getting higher, both in India and across the world, as a result of the climate crisis.

A warming climate leads to more extreme weather, like thunderstorms, and according to a study published by the University of California in 2015, for every 1C increase in temperature, the frequency of lightning strikes increases by 12 per cent.

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